The Modern Ninja Perspective: Stephen K. Hayes

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Martial Arts has undergone dramatic evolution and the art of the Ninja is no exception. To-Shin Do, founded by Stephen K. Hayes, is a contemporary take on Ninjutsu. While the physical techniques and principles of Ninjutsu remain true to its origins, modern circumstances have changed the method in which Ninjas must execute them. Their ancient perspective provides clarity for these modern times. Perhaps you’ll see life with new eyes upon exploring the way of the Ninja.

Feudal Japan was a polite society. According to Hayes, the Japanese didn’t instigate too many public brawls. Flash forward to modern America and the story is different. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech. While this Amendment has amazing perks, it has its dark side. “In the States people can invade your space and verbally disrespect you,” says Hayes, “That wouldn’t happen in 1500s Japan.”

The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. In Feudal Japan, as long as you had grounds to carry a weapon, there weren’t law suits or jail time if you defended yourself with one. In modern America self defense involving a weapon is often met with intense legal hoops and accusations. There is a positive side to this; you can’t just slice someone’s head off because they made you mad.

The problem lies with situations where you are forced to defend yourself. The legal system has yet to find balance between understanding self defense and defending those slain innocently. “The powers that be don’t want people to take responsibility for their safety,” says Hayes, “It should start by trusting people to defend themselves. People should be empowered.” So how can Americans better defend themselves in the face of these laws and other circumstances evolving from our current world?

Let’s talk Modern Ninjutsu.

On the one hand, letting anger pull you into a brawl is a bad idea. Ninjustu uses sneaky tactics dealing with fight situations. Picking your battles is important. Often a fight isn’t going to be worth the consequences. Sometimes it’s better to vanish, as a Ninja knows how. If you do have to fight, “You have to feel your opponent,” says Hayes,”Give them a little of what they expect and then surprise them.” Besides the physical techniques of self defense, the way of the Ninja also has spiritual methods.

Ancient Ninjas practiced spiritual thought. Hayes takes a lot of cues from Buddhist philosophy. “Buddhism shows me how the universe works,” says Hayes, “The most important thing I get from Buddhist study is how belief, memory, and how we interpret life conditions what we say life is going to feel like. Buddhism steps back from the media and other possible limitations of how the mind and reality work. It forces you to ask, ‘What if there was a reality outside of my memories and conditioning? What exercises can I do to take myself out of these limitations? What will I find when I view reality more clearly?’ Buddhism is a technology for understanding how life works.” He continues with the self defense side of Buddhist philosophy. “Is it possible someone is going to say something that you need to respond to in a violent manner?” says Hayes, “Changing your perspective can change your response and what will come next. Laughing it off and viewing the situation as comical instead of getting angry is usually wiser.”

Meeting the Dalai Lama only reinforced the value of what Buddhism can provide in the modern day perspective. Hayes met His Holiness back in 1986 and was his “ninja bodyguard”. “The best way I can describe him is that he lives up to his true billing,” says Hayes.

On the decline of religious influence in fighter’s lives, Hayes says, “As Martial Arts emphasizes less on warfare and more on sport, religion becomes less important. Knights and ancient Chinese warriors needed to be guided from doing horrible things in war. They also needed to be guided through doing horrible things in war. Religion did that. Nowadays it’s not necessary for the sport. Young people need things relevant to them. That’s why a lot of current Muay Thai fighters don’t practice Buddhism as was traditional years back. These athletes avoid the religious aspect because they feel it’s something their grandparents did. Religion isn’t relevant to them.”

While Hayes isn’t sure if this is a good or bad thing, he does point out the need for fighters to have a moral code. “We can forget power can be intoxicating,” says Hayes, “There have been some ugly headlines of these MMA fighters and their students getting into trouble. The more powerful man is the one looking to make the world a better place.”

Yet MMA is a result of an evolving world. “MMA is a modernization of traditional arts,” says Hayes. “Now we use MMA as a word. Once upon a time MMA was a real radical thing. Back in the 80′s people didn’t like that I hit like a karate person, grappled like a Judo person, used swords Kendo style and incorporated Zen Buddhist philosophy. I was really an MMA guy thirty years too soon. Now who is going to question MMA?” Mixing systems has also provided ways for people to train in a more authentic way. “In old classical Martial Arts everyone looked the same,” says Hayes, “Now people use their size and personality in self defense. They use what they can from different systems that will work for them.”

As for advice for the MMA community Hayes says, “I’d like to see an emphasis on how good it feels to be truly powerful and doing good outside the ring. Be an agent of brightness. Americans loves to see the good guy win. The more you win, the brighter you’ll be and the more you’ll empower others.” – Paige Etheridge